Grouchy Treasures

When you stop to count your blessings, do not forget to give God a big thank you to for all the difficult people in your life.  Those cranks that cross your path and darken your doorway are just bursting with the potential to bless you. Every person who provokes you is an opportunity but it all depends on you.  You can respond with love and mercy or you can get angry and lash out — blessing or sin.

Yet, it is not natural to feel grateful for people with a knack for inflicting misery.  This is perhaps the greatest challenge of being Christian; hatred in, love out.

The Bible Tells Me So

The Golden Rule is: "Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you" (Matt 7:12).  The "Our Father" states: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  These are good rules of thumb for starters, but I've seen serious Christians brush them aside when they find themselves on the receiving end of hostility.

 "I don't have to forgive my mother-in-law because she is not saying she is sorry," someone once told me.  "God forgives me when I ask for it and I'll forgive her when she asks for it."

And a person could thwart the Golden Rule by reasoning, "I would never have done such a hateful thing and if I did, then I would deserve to have someone strike back."

 Luckily, to avoid tripping into loopholes, Christ reinforced His teachings to us.  "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt 26:40).  Does that mean if you lash out at someone, Jesus receives the blow, too?  I believe so, but some could construe this verse as just pertaining to charitable things such as feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, volunteering to bake brownies for the church bake sale, etc. and not necessarily to interacting with a trouble maker.

Because the above passage in Matthew is talking about doing things for others, does it necessarily include doing things to others also?  Did Jesus really mean to take away your right to strike back at the rude and inconsiderate or even such people as idiot drivers?  It would seem so.  "When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well" (Matt 5:39).  But the idiot driver did not strike me on the cheek, he cut me off and could have killed us both.  Doesn't matter.  There are no clauses that allow for road rage.  "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Matt 5:44-45).

We must look to Jesus for a clear example to know He meant exactly what He said.  After being arrested, beaten and hung on a cross, Jesus responded with love, not revenge.  If we were writing the script, most of us would have had the earth swallow up the soldiers and persecutors.  Instead, Jesus responded by praying: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

 A New Attitude 

Rats, you may be thinking, I can't be that goodIt's not natural to give love to those who hurt me.  You are right, it's not at all natural; it's supernatural.  But if you are looking at it as a difficult and an unpleasant task, you need a new attitude. Instead of looking at your next-door neighbor, Mr. Grouchy Pants, as an unpleasant thorn in your side, look at him as a rose in disguise.  People like him hold the keys to your holiness.  All you have to do is smile and be pleasant.  Oh, and one more thing; you have to try (remember, I said try) to love him.

This is not just about being nice on the surface and bubbling over in hatred underneath.  You really do need to try and love your neighbor as yourself.  "If I give away everything I own and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor 13:3).  That is why, instead of grumbling, you need to show love, compassion and an abundance of mercy.  You cannot always muster up those lovely feelings, so sometimes, just the desire to feel love, will have to do.

And where do I get off claiming such power and opportunity can come from the crabs of the world?  Because Jesus said so.  "For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Luke 6:38).  And in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-10 we are told, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."  What a deal!  That means if you show mercy to others, God will show mercy to you.  And if you show mercy to people who do not seem to deserve it, then you hit the jackpot of graces — you too will receive mercy that we don't deserve.

Remember, whatever you do for others you do for Christ, but that's not all — everything comes full circle.  The measure of love and mercy you give to others does not just go from others to Christ; it is meted back to you.  Investing love in difficult people nets quite an amazing return indeed.

Why would God make  such a deal?  Why would He want you to love your enemies instead of helping Him out in the justice department?  Let's take a moment and think about it from God's perspective.  If you are a parent, think of how you feel when your kids argue and behave in a hateful way towards one another.  Mothers and fathers feel very sad when anger enters their children's relationships.  You want your children to love one another.  If your son, Bobby, punches his sister, Suzie, does it make you happy to see Suzie clobber him back?  Or on an older level, if your daughter Robin was caught gossiping about her sister, Cindy, it would break your heart if Cindy blew up at Robin and told her off.

Now, imagine if instead of clobbering Bobby, Suzie told him to stop the punching and join her on the swing set to play.  And what if Cindy merely responded by telling Robin that the gossip hurt her because she loves her sister so very much?  When you think of your own children, it is easier to understand why God wants you to love others regardless of what the other may have done to you.

No Accident?

There's something else to consider, too.  Maybe God is not just sitting back and hoping you'll be nice to His difficult children.  Maybe sometimes He actually puts them in your path to begin with.  After all, if He knows you are going to be kind and even pray for our enemies, maybe He's bringing them to you.

This thought occurred to me one day while I was walking my two dogs on a walking path that circles a golf course.  When people come from the other direction, I pull my dogs aside onto the grass so there is plenty of room on the sidewalk for the other walker.  One morning, my mind was on something else and I did not do this when an older man walked past me.  He had to take a few steps onto the grass and then back onto the sidewalk. Not a big deal in my book.  But wouldn't you know it, the one time I do not pay attention and slip in the courtesy department, I have to pass by perhaps the crabbiest man on the walking trail that morning.  He angrily yelled at me over this seemingly minor incident.  I was a bit shaken but quickly apologized.  The man simply walked off in a huff.

Then, I thought to myself: I always pull my dogs aside so why did I have to space out when I passed this obviously  unhappy person?  That's when it occurred to me: Maybe God brought him to my attention to show me a poor soul in need of prayers.  God knew that instead of yelling back at the man, I would pray for him, which was something he obviously needed.

I suppose this thought might be a scary one in a way.  Does that mean that, if I pray for my persecutors, God is going to send me more?  Do you want more of these sorts of people in your life?

If you read the lives of the saints, you know that they would have answered this last question with a "yes".  They were not only kind to people who treated them harshly, they seemed to be attracted to such souls.  Consider the example of St. Therese of Lesieux who took it upon herself to help the one nun in her convent who everyone found to be extremely difficult.  She did such a good job at showing love that this elderly nun wanted to know what it was about her that attracted St. Therese.  Being prudent as well as loving, St. Theresa just smiled.  Whenever I read biographies of the saints, this merciful behavior always abounds.  Because the saints show us the way to God through their examples, it would seem that the road to heaven is paved with challenging people.

Showing love instead of indulging in revenge is truly a difficult challenge at times.  It's an expectation that most of us, myself certainly included, struggle with.  So if this article has challenged you beyond your desires, and if I have irritated you by presenting it here, then go ahead and get started right away by praying for me.  You can be sure I'll be doing the same for you.  Because God gave me my gift of writing and I've given it back to Him, once my work is done, I pray for those who read my words.  This is actually quite easy for me, because you guys don't even bug me.

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now.

To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • Guest

    Amen! What a great article! I sometimes wonder why we christians so easily indulge in being self-centered and self-justified; hypocrite in other words. It is so easy but it is also devastating, because others, non-christians, ought to see Christ in us, to see us, christians, behaving differently. it makes a difference. we might never in this life know it, but in heaven, by carrying our crosses and bearing our wrongs patiently and with love, we might save someone's soul from being eternally lost! 

    Let's think about the Fatima children and make small sacrifices in our daily life, for the conversion of sinners!
  • Guest

    Great article! Prayer is powerful. I do believe that some of the most profound changes God has brought about in me have been through my choice to love those who've been angry with me, or who have stopped speaking to me due to some disagreement we've had. In the end, some have come around and some have not. Those who've not yet come around, I am still praying for! Hopefully, they're praying for me too. 

  • Guest

    Your article was very thought provoking and I'm going to copy it for future rereading.  However, I was sorry you didn't address abusive relationships.  Surely, people should not let themselves be abused in order to turn the other cheek…  Also, in today's reading from Mark, Jesus says people are forgiven in all things except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Please explain that in the light of your article.  Thank You!

  • Guest

    someone keeps this quote posted as a sig: 

    "The Catholic Church frames the Christian life as one in which you must exercise virtue–not because virtue saves you, but because that's the way God's grace gets manifested." — Dr. Francis J. Beckwith

    And it is this virtue, as in kindness to the grumpy, the callous, and even the downright cruel, that saves not us, but others, by leading them to Christ. 

  • Guest

    Wonderful article! The grouchy people in our lives are probably the closest most of us will come to the "enemies" that Jesus tells us to love. (Although we also tend to forget that we are commanded to love Osama and the other terrorists who threaten our lives and our freedoms.) It often seems more difficult to love the person who cuts in front of us in traffic than the terrorist halfway across the world.

    The only minor quibble I have with your article (see, I'm being grouchy — now you can pray for me, too!) is your statement, "You cannot always muster up those lovely feelings, so sometimes, just the desire to feel love, will have to do." The love to which Jesus commands us is not about feelings. It is rather, "agape" — the pure, self-sacrificing love demonstrated by our God on the cross. It is the love that desires good for another — even when that other is inflicting harm upon us. We don't have to have loving feelings to pray for someone — but sincerely praying for another IS loving him. We love another when we sincerely desire his salvation, and pray for that end. And when we start praying for God's mercy on others who probably don't deserve it, as you so rightly point out, that same mercy will be given to us (who also don't deserve it!)

    I love the idea that perhaps God sends us grouchy people because they need someone to pray for them, and He knows that we will do that! Now, when I feel like my day is filled with "grouchies", I will stop and think that I must be doing something right, for God to send me so many people who need my love! Of course, as Mother Teresa once said, "I know God won't send me more than I can handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much!"


  • Guest

    elkollar, Jesus did not want any of us to live in abusive relationships. (Note that we only have two cheeks!) "Love your neighbor as yourself" requires that you love yourself first. You must continue to hope and pray for the abuser's eventual salvation, but are not supposed to become a punching bag for that person. That would not be conducive to his salvation or yours.

  • Guest

    Terrific article.

    I've always loved that story about St Therese.

    I have two neighbors who are VERY nasty and have harassed my family (and other families with children) unmercifully.  For a time I referred to them by nasty nicknames which were spin offs of their real name (not foul language mind you). 

    Several years ago it occurred to me that when they brought me down to their level, they had power over me.  That I wasn't an actor in my life.  Also, the nicknames "dehumanized" them…and me in the process.  I resolved to pray for them every time I passed their house.  I'd say, "Bless them, and do not curse them", to myself.  I didn't wave at them because that would actually provoke them. 

    They haven't change one iota in the 12 years I've known them, but I have applied the lessons learned from them to other areas of my life. 

    After all,  scripture says, "Love your NEIGHBOR" not "love your friend" for a reason.  You cannot chose your neighbor.  But with God's grace, you can have empathy for them and pray they repent.  Maybe, just maybe, you'll be converted too. 


    Thank you for this timely article. Last night at dinner we were talking about what to give up during Lent. I told the family that I was going to "fast" from saying anything negative about a particular person in my life.  And I am going to truly look at her with eyes of love (not just stuff my feelings).  I consider this article "food for the journey".  You are my companion, Patti,  and I bless you.

  • Guest


    I agree that abusive relationships fall into another category. With regard to my neighbors, they have gone to the extreme of calling the city to complain of ridiculous issues.  I have a concern that they'd call social services without cause.  Therefore, we have addressed that type of harassment head on letting them know it won't be tolerated.  Formal harassment has stopped.

    Another example.  I have an abusive father with whom I have not had  contact in 9 years.  I tried to reconcile after 8 years of no contact.  He hadn't changed therefore, I broke off the destructive relationship. (a total of 17 years) However, I don't hate him like I did during the first split.  I've forgiven him for the past.  I cherish the good times and gifts he gave me.  I hold out that if he changes I can someday have a father/daughter relationship with him.  And, I pray for his salvation.  (This is all in contrast to my initial feelings of wishing hell on him–a mortal sin for me–and never talking about him as if I never had a father)

    I think this approach has been helpful to me and not destructive to me or my children. 

    What are your thoughts on the point you mentioned? 

  • Guest

    Ouch! That hit home—with a particular person who needs my prayers instead of my criticisms.


  • Guest

    I have actually said to my husband…."Today, I'm your opportunity for Grace!"……..and he responded that Grace!  What a blessing he is to me.  I try to remember that when I face "opportunities" in my life day by day, moment by moment.


    Thanks CE for another great article to help me on my journey.


    Jesus, I Trust in You!

  • Guest

    What a coincidence that I read only yesterday an article about apologizing.

    Read it here: Apologize


  • Guest

    I have to comment on the "feelings" issue.  Eons ago (almost literally), I was taught that the "Christian life" should be viewed as a train: the will is the locomotive that "drives" (okay: pulls) the train; the little caboose on the end is "feelings": they will go where the will leads them, whether they like it or not.

    Loving someone–our neighbor, our father, or whoever is our "problem"–has nothing whatever to do with lovely feelings; it has everything to do with making a decision of the will to act/speak in a loving manner.

    As a society, a culture, we are WAY too "led" by our feelings–which is why nobody trusts anybody any more: feelings change as often as the wind shifts.  My "feelings" are an issue between me and God.  How I act and speak are MY responsibility, and God expects me to act responsibly.

  • Guest

    Thank you for the reminder. I've been dwelling on a hurt that occurred neasly three years ago. I need to forgive the man that hurt me, pray for him, and, as you say, try to love him. Supernaturally, of course – I can't do these things in my own power!

  • Guest

    Awesome article.

  • Guest

    Thank you for a great article.  I printed it and read it on my lunch break and have thought about it the rest of the day.  This really helped a situation in my life and I came home with a better attitude.  It made me realize how very far I am from being a saint and now I realize more fully, why St. Therese of the Little Flower is.